Tag Archives: Friends

Just When You Think Everything Is Under Control

28 Feb

This post was due a while ago.  It has languished as a draft for the last two weeks as I have not been able to clear my mind enough to organise a few photos and publish it.  At the conclusion of my last post I mentioned looking forward to Dad’s visit.  Read on to find out why that got cancelled…

Monday 17th February was a lovely fine and warm day and we spent it going some gardening and relaxing.  We did settle down indoors to watch some highlights from the Winter Olympics ice skating in the afternoon.  So what could go wrong, huh?

Next thing I know there is a noise and Leanne is on the floor in the entrance to the kitchen.  She had tripped on the log basket beside the fire as she was stepping back and turning.  As she went down she automatically put out her right hand and it took the full force of her landing.  The time was 17h15.  It didn’t look too good and she was in pain so off we went to the nearest A&E.  We arrived at the A&E department at Brignoles, where there was a provincial general hospital, at 17h50.  By 18h10 she had had an x-ray and was in a treatment room.  Very efficient.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, she had fractured the radius and displaced the fragment in two planes – upwards and sideways.  This would require surgery.  Because she had eaten only two hours earlier they would not operate that night.  So without reducing the fracture (i.e. without even lining things up as close as possible) they fitted a support cast.  This turned out to be a huge bit of luck.
I left Leanne at the hospital around 22h00 and went back home to start dealing with travel insurance and contacting some friends.  Contacting friends turned out to be crucial.  We are blessed to have great friends who have expertise in a diverse range of fields.  In this case the medical field was trumps.  I sent a message to Belinda to tell her what had happened and the hospital’s proposed course of action.  She in turn contacted another friend who was an orthopaedic surgeon specialising in hand and wrist procedures.  The result was that we declined further treatment at Brignoles in favour of returning home for better treatment.  I finally got to bed at 03h20.
I should stress that this is not meant to be an indictment on Brignoles hospital.  They are a small provincial hospital offering a wide range of services to their local community including a general orthopaedic capability.  Auckland is a much larger city and we have a wider range of services available including a specialist hand and wrist department.  Any provincial hospital in New Zealand would probably have a similar capability to Brignoles.
So with the agreement of our travel insurance company Leanne checked out of Brignoles on Tuesday and we set about firstly getting Leanne’s recovery moving along so that we could take the long flight home and secondly finalising all our affairs in France.  Fortunately we were already working on the close out and compressing what was meant to take 4 weeks into one week was actually feasible.  We also had help from local friends like Jeremy & Jo and Sue.  In fact we stayed with Jeremy & Jo on the first night out of hospital and again on our last night before departing.  They really did pamper us.
The weather was also kind in  our final week – after a very mild winter things turned quite sunny and spring was in evidence all around.  At Jeremy & Jo’s place the mimosa (wattle to us) came in to full bloom and looked great.  One very strange thing did happen with the weather however.  We got up on Wednesday morning to find the cars, and everything else, covered with dirt.  It looked like the cars had been wet down and then very fine dust thrown all over them.  In fact, that was very close to what had happened.  Once or twice a year there is a weather pattern that causes dust from the Sahara to be conveyed north and to be deposited with the rain.  There must have been a huge amount of dust deposited that night because everywhere we went cars looked like they had been on the Dakar rally.  Up at La Regalade the lake looked dirty as did the swimming pool, the terrace and outdoor furniture.  It was a mess.
On Monday 24th February we finished packing and tidying up at La Regalade and drove to Jeremy & Jo’s where we were able to weigh our four bags for the first time.  Bugger!  97kg and our limit was 80kg.  After some serious culling of clothes and keepsakes we managed to get just under the 80kg mark.  It was also time to wash all that Sahara dirt off the car and take it to be sold.
We had arranged a couple of weeks ago to sell it back to the guy we bought it from so we had called him to change the date and he was agreeable.  So with Jeremy in tow we set of to do the deal.  My heart stopped when we got to Draguignan 45 minutes away because the gates to the car yard were locked.  However a phone call brought Matt to the yard and we said farewell to our trusty French sports car.
That evening Jeremy cooked up a delicious cassoulet for dinner and Sue, Robin and Tristan joined us for a very nice evening.  Morning came around a bit too quickly and in no time at all it was time to bid our farewells to Jeremy & Jo and board the mini van that our travel insurers had arranged to get us to Nice airport.  We left right on time at 10am and by noon we were in the lounge taking it easy.
Our flight home was broken in Dubai with an overnight hotel stay.  Nice to Dubai is between five and six hours and then you have time for six hours sleep in a real bed before the long stretch to Melbourne and then Auckland.  The flight to Melbourne was assisted by a strong tail wind plus Jeremy’s cassoulet was still producing its legendary motive force so the flight time was down to 13 instead of 14 hours.  I don’t know where the saved time went to because by the time we had spent 45 minutes getting through the security check in Melbourne (don’t let me get started on that topic!) we only had 45 minutes in the lounge before boarding the last sector to Auckland.
That last sector was three hours and went by very quickly.  We landed in Auckland on time at 13h45 and after a short delay waiting for the gate to clear we were on our way through the formalities and to the waiting taxi.  It was 3pm when we arrived home and Darryn was waiting together with Leanne’s Mum & Dad.  My Dad arrived a little while later and we had coffee and cakes while catching up on the news.  It was so nice to be home!
From here we will need to get Leanne’s surgery organised.  We don’t know exactly what that will entail or how long it will all take but I guess that will be another episode.

Is It Spring Already?

16 Feb

Even though I have stretched my posts out to two weeks and we are not really up to much these days, it is Blogday afternoon already!  That also means that our days are counting down very swiftly towards our departure from France.  We are both now very much looking forward to getting home but there is a building sadness that we will be leaving so much behind here in France.

In the last 5 days the weather has improved tremendously.  The rain more or less stopped and we have had a couple of cloudless and reasonably still days.  Temperatures have been climbing too although it has not yet really been cold.  In the whole of January we had one frost at Jeremy and Jo’s place and since being back at La Regalade at Carcès on 3rd February we have not had a single frost.  Today the high was 16˚C and tonight will only get down to 6˚C.  Very pleasant considering that February is often the coldest month here.  Let’s hope I have not spoken too soon!

Of course all this nice weather brings Spring!  It seems too early but some mature trees are breaking bud and there are spring flowers starting to bloom.  Nice.

To get back into the chronology of the fortnight, we started on the 3rd of February by collecting Jeremy and Jo from Nice airport after their trip to visit their son and daughter-in-law in Thirroul (near Wollongong, Australia).  They had had a wonderful trip and not having to spoil it by telling them that Squeaky was missing was a great relief for us (see the previous post for an explanation).  We spent the afternoon with them and then headed up to La Regalade in the evening.  We should have gone earlier because by the time we got there it was dark and after being closed up for a month it was as cold as a witches tit.  In fact it took three days to get the villa warm again.  We also found that the sanglier had been very active in the gardens digging out plants and moving rocks and soil.

On the Thursday we met Sabine and Jean-Marc for lunch at Le Gourmandin in Le Luc.  We had a lovely time talking and eating (OK, and drinking) and suddenly it was 3pm.  The details of the meal are saved in Evernote Food, click here.

On Sunday 9th we  headed to Saint-Raphaël to go to an artisan chocolate exhibition but Leanne changed her mind when she saw how small it was. We drove around the coast a bit to Agay.  I took a few photos then headed inland in search of snow covered hills behind Draguignan.  We ended up going through Bagnol-en-forêt and Saint-Paul-en-forêt before getting to Fayence.  Got some decent shots from the side of the airfield.  On the way home we stopped for a coffee in Lorgues which turned out to be a treat.  We have been to Lorgues several times but always on a market day (Tuesday) so we had not seen the main street in its normal state. There were lots of things from details to whole big buildings that we had not noticed before because the market stalls and the crowds always dominated the scene.  It was nice to see it at rest on a Sunday afternoon.

On Monday night we met Jeremy and Jo in Lorgues together with most of the local Brit community who had all come to see Philomena starring Judy Dench.  It was the ‘VO’ edition, i.e. the original version in English with French subtitles.  It was a very good movie.

With the better weather we were also starting to get on to some of the outdoor jobs at La Regalade that needed doing before the summer rental season starts.  Wednesday was a another day dominated by food and socialising.  We were invited to Lance and Saskia’s home in Correns for lunch.  We arrived on time at 12h30 joined by four others and nobody left until after 6pm!  This is something of a habit here in France it seems, the all afternoon and into the evening lunch.

I also spent some time taking photos looking across the lake to La Regalade so I could create a panorama.  WordPress does not play nicely with wide panorama images so if you are interested just hit this link and it should take you to the latest panorama on my Flickr page.  If the link doesn’t quite work you will find the image on my photostream and in the set called ‘Panoramic Images’ on my Flickr page, click here.

And now for some photos and less rambling from me!

Just a sample of the damage done by the sanglier (wild boar) at La Regalade.  They have unrooted some of the lavender plants and pulled some of the irrigation lines apart.

Just a sample of the damage done by the sanglier (wild boar) at La Regalade. They have unrooted some of the lavender plants and pulled some of the irrigation lines apart.

This is Le Gourmandin where we enjoyed a lovely lunch with Sabine and Jean-Marc last week.

This is Le Gourmandin where we enjoyed a lovely lunch with Sabine and Jean-Marc last week.

The coast at Agay, near Saint-Raphaël.  This was one of the few very clear and sunny days we had during a period of many rainy weather.

The coast at Agay, near Saint-Raphaël. This was one of the few very clear and sunny days we had during a period of many rainy weather.

I found a gap on the perimeter of the airfield from where the view of Fayence and the show behind was clear.  I am not so sure that I was meant to be there...

I found a gap on the perimeter of the airfield from where the view of Fayence and the show behind was clear. I am not so sure that I was meant to be there…

While I was there no harm in taking another shot!

While I was there no harm in taking another shot!

The Mairie (Town Hall) in Lorgues.

The Mairie (Town Hall) in Lorgues.

Looking away from the Mairie in Lorgues this time.

Looking away from the Mairie in Lorgues this time.

Being the middle of winter on a dreary Sunday afternoon the streets of Lorgues were deserted.  This highlights how well presented the buildings actually are here.

Being the middle of winter on a dreary Sunday afternoon the streets of Lorgues were deserted. This highlights how well presented the buildings actually are here.

The spillway from the Lac de Carcès.  It is when this is opened in times of heavy rain that the river Argens floods.  This is the outlet of the Lac de Carcès which is the manmade reservoir that we overlook from La Regalade.

The spillway from the Lac de Carcès. It is when this is opened in times of heavy rain that the river Argens floods. This is the outlet of the Lac de Carcès which is the manmade reservoir that we overlook from La Regalade.

Only ~200m from the dam, this is one of the local irrigation canals that criss-cross this area. The sluice gate feeding it was closed hence the very low water level. I am guessing that this was to stop silt laden water due to the rains from circulating through the canal system.

Only ~200m from the dam, this is one of the local irrigation canals that criss-cross this area. The sluice gate feeding it was closed hence the very low water level. I am guessing that this was to stop silt laden water due to the rains from circulating through the canal system.

Probably ~500m down from the dam there is an area of rapids and small falls.  It is normally a fairly peaceful area but with the amount of water being released from the lake it is now raging.  The noise completely drowns any conversation (how's that for a pun?).

Probably ~500m down from the dam there is an area of rapids and small falls. It is normally a fairly peaceful area but with the amount of water being released from the lake it is now raging. The noise completely drowns any conversation (how’s that for a pun?).

More water...

More water…

And even more water, still at the same location.

And even more water, still at the same location.

Ample evidence of the very wet and warmer than normal winter so far.  Really just an excuse for me to attempt DoF photo.

Ample evidence of the very wet and warmer than normal winter so far. Really just an excuse for me to attempt DoF photo.

Streetscape in Carcès on a winter Thursday morning.  Not a lot going on but a nice village all the same.

Streetscape in Carcès on a winter Thursday morning. Not a lot going on but a nice village all the same.

That’s it for now.  The clock is ticking and the next time I post Dad will be here.  Really looking forward to that.

Sold The Sports Car

3 Feb

Again this week most of the action has been down the road at James and Lavinia’s property, The Fairies.  David and Diana are now the incumbent housesitters and we have thoroughly enjoyed starting to get to know them over the last couple of weeks.

Leanne and I went back down to The Fairies on the second day after the flooding that I covered last time.  It was Tuesday morning and we were amazed at how normal the place looked.  Sure there was a little sand and silt, not too much, and a couple of small trees pushed over, but except for the side fence everything looked pretty good.  We spent nearly two hours walking by the river and trying to reconcile what we were seeing now with how it had been 48 hours earlier, under ~3m of water in many places.

When it has not been raining we have had some fairly strong winds which played havoc with some of our plans, like burning winter prunings.  We have also had a couple of thunderstorms which means we unplug all the electronics (TV, ADSL modem, telephone, etc.) and hope it doesn’t last too long.  Even short periods without internet access are becoming seriously inconvenient these days.  How did we ever cope before?!?!

One very good task we did manage to complete was to arrange for the sale of our car when we leave.  We took it back to the guy we bought it from and he agreed to buy it back from us on 5th March for a set price provided we did no more than 6,500km more and it was otherwise in the same condition as the day he saw it.  That certainly un-complicates one aspect of our departure from France.  We also sorted out what we have to do with the car insurance company and that is simple.  That just leaves the bank and the mobile phones.  The phones should sort themselves out if we stop paying!  The bank could be a challenge.  Stay tuned.

A couple of days ago Stephen Fry tweeted a link to a YouTube video showing how to open a bottle of wine with just a shoe.  I had to try it.  It works!  But not with a running shoe, probably too shock absorbing.  I had to use a more rigid shoe.  Check out the clip for yourself… http://youtu.be/u1wROm-OF9w.

And getting back to the river… the level had stayed fairly high since the 19th due to ongoing spells of rain.  But it was slowly receding.  Then on Thursday night/Friday morning (30th/31st) we had 35~40mm more rain and the river breached its banks again.  We were heading out to go shopping on Friday afternoon and had to turn back and take the other route because the road was flooded!  Some of The Fairies was under water again but only ~20% of the area compared to last time.

The photo selection is a bit limited again but here goes…

Looking at the main gates at The Fairies from the road.  The water has been right up here.  That is a lot further up than when we had left it on the Sunday evening thinking it was at the maximum then.

Looking at the main gates at The Fairies from the road. The water has been right up here. That is a lot further up than when we had left it on the Sunday evening thinking it was at the maximum then.

The gate openers got a bit wet but after some TLC from David they are working again.

The gate openers got a bit wet but after some TLC from David they are working again.

The side fence has definitely seen better days.

The side fence has definitely seen better days.

This log and other debris up the tree is over 3m above the main ground level.

This log and other debris up the tree is over 3m above the main ground level.

These are the conifers that I drew a line from last time.  Except that my line was probably too low.  Leanne is 1.7m tall so I guess the high water mark is ~2.5m.

These are the conifers that I drew a line from last time. Except that my line was probably too low. Leanne is 1.7m tall so I guess the high water mark is ~2.5m.

That lump in the river is where the barrage (dam) is.

That lump in the river is where the barrage (dam) is.

Looking downstream over the chute and the barrage.

Looking downstream over the chute and the barrage.

The table was well secured to the tree and reappeared when the water receded.

The table was well secured to the tree and reappeared when the water receded.

The walkway through the woods is still there but looking like it has been hoovered clean.  There is also a bit of debris stuck on the trees.

The walkway through the woods is still there but looking like it has been hoovered clean. There is also a bit of debris stuck on the trees.

Less than 48 hours ago this plant was under 3m or more of water.  Hard to tell now.

Less than 48 hours ago this plant was under 3m or more of water. Hard to tell now.

Down at the far corner of the property the water was up where Leanne's feet are, completely submerging the steps.

Down at the far corner of the property the water was up where Leanne’s feet are, completely submerging the steps.

The water got onto the big path through the woods but didn't quite cross it.

The water got onto the big path through the woods but didn’t quite cross it.

Evidence of the high water mark.

Evidence of the high water mark.

Because it was there!

Because it was there!

I put this in for comparison with the similar shot two days earlier that was in my last post.

I put this in for comparison with the similar shot two days earlier that was in my last post.

We have had more than our share of rain in January and on the non-raining days it was usually windy.  Do you see that in this photo?

We have had more than our share of rain in January and on the non-raining days it was usually windy. Do you see that in this photo?

Squeaky is Jeremy and Jo's adorable cat.  Don't let the eyes fool you, she is almost totally blind.  Poor thing, but she manages very well even concealing it from the casual observer.

Squeaky is Jeremy and Jo’s adorable cat. Don’t let the eyes fool you, she is almost totally blind. Poor thing, but she manages very well even concealing it from the casual observer.

If she wants to pose, I will take the photo!

If she wants to pose, I will take the photo!

This is Polly, one of the two chickens.  They are busy all day around the garden and will follow anyone carrying a plastic bag.  They expect it to contain tasty morsels from the kitchen.

This is Polly, one of the two chickens. They are busy all day around the garden and will follow anyone carrying a plastic bag. They expect it to contain tasty morsels from the kitchen.

The chickens supervised as I installed this cutting edge piece of technology in Jeremy's back garden this week.  As far as I know it has only recently been released to the market after centuries of R&D and this is the only model of its type in France today.  It is called a ‘Flexi-Ditch’ and the reviews are just raving about it.  The remarkable thing about it is that it can be moved to any location you want using only a common garden spade.  Remarkable!

The chickens supervised as I installed this cutting edge piece of technology in Jeremy’s back garden this week. As far as I know it has only recently been released to the market after centuries of R&D and this is the only model of its type in France today. It is called a ‘Flexi-Ditch’ and the reviews are just raving about it. The remarkable thing about it is that it can be moved to any location you want using only a common garden spade. Remarkable!

Our little French sports car.  For those not already informed, we refer to our Clio as a sports car on the basis that sports cars have only two seats.  This Clio has only two seats, QED.  It is actually the 'commercial' version of the Clio family and has a large cargo space instead of rear seats.  It has been very practical for us.  It does not normally look this clean but we were about to take it to a car dealer to arrange its sale.

Our little French sports car. For those not already informed, we refer to our Clio as a sports car on the basis that sports cars have only two seats. This Clio has only two seats, QED. It is actually the ‘commercial’ version of the Clio family and has a large cargo space instead of rear seats. It has been very practical for us. It does not normally look this clean but we were about to take it to a car dealer to arrange its sale.

Our NZ sticker on the back left (there is another on the glass on the right but it is practically invisible in this shot).

Our NZ sticker on the back left (there is another on the glass on the right but it is practically invisible in this shot).

It is now 7:45pm on Sunday evening and we have not seen Squeaky since about 7pm last night when she got off Leanne’s lap and went outside.  She was not back when we went to bed and she did not respond to calling.  This morning we looked all over the garden and in and under everything inside and out.  Nothing.  Sue came over for lunch and while here tried telephoning the neighbours where she is known to visit but there was no reply.  The neighbours have been away for most of the time we have been in residence, only returning in the last few days.  So Squeaky has now been missing for just over 24 hours and Jeremy and Jo get back tomorrow morning.  Shit!

Then Sue called back.  She has finally got hold of the neighbours and Squeaky is relaxing in front of their fire after enjoying a shrimp dinner!  The little witch!!  She has had us very worried.  Words will be had when she comes home…

Happy New Year!

6 Jan

Perhaps a little late, but Happy New Year to everyone!  Why not make 2014 the year that you stop rationalising, dust off that long harboured dream and go for it?  Work backwards from ‘what is the worst thing that could happen’ until you get to ‘what is most likely to happen’ if you follow this dream.  You will probably find that there isn’t really much in the way at all.  It just seems like there might be.  That’s all the philosophical content of this post!

You know that list of things you keep putting off doing but you know is going to bite your ass one day?  My list is not too bad while we are travelling, we only have phones, iPad, computer and a camera to look after.  So it has stuff on it like needing to sort out my ‘Documents’ folder on the computer so that I am not cluttering up my backup system with stuff that should not be there.  And going through my 105GB iTunes library and deleting stuff that I no longer listen to or watch.  Real rainy day, stay inside and keep warm types of tasks.  Well we have just had several days of perfect weather for getting those things done.  The reason that this housekeeping has come to the top of my attention list is that I am having some performance issues with my laptop, especially with Aperture, which is the program I use to manage my photos.  The Apple Store guys reckoned the best thing to do was a clean install.  That means having everything backed up properly.  I knew this day was coming but had been in denial because of the risks involved but I agreed that it is time.  Part of the problem is with the way I set this computer up in the beginning – I loaded it with a backup off my desktop machine.  What that has done is carry forward 2+ years of dusty baggage from the desktop and I have now been on this laptop for 2 years so that adds up to a lot of baggage.  Time for a fresh start.  So in about a week I will be sitting in the Apple Store in Nice using their free high speed WiFi to to re-download OS X and all my applications, about 20GB worth, and setting up from scratch.  If anything comes up they will be there to help.  Wish me luck!

I was also reading an article on how FaceBook, WordPress (this site) and others mash uploaded photos.  I don’t often look at the finished blog post because I can see the photos anytime in their full glory in Aperture.  So I went through some of the recent posts and I was amazed.  The photos look terrible, at least compared to what I see before uploading.  I am certain that they were previously much better than they appear now and I have read some comments that the compression techniques have been changed.  There are now fringing artefacts, fuzzy details and generally dull colours.  I didn’t realise they looked so bad.  There are ways to improve them and I don’t understand all the options yet but it seems that they all involve spending significant sums of money and complicating the workflow.  Neither of those things are on my agenda at this point in time so I guess the photos will continue to be destroyed by WordPress as they seek to minimise file sizes.  What I might try to do is to load more of the photos on to Flickr in future.

That is of course for the posts that actually have some decent photos to upload and this does not appear to be one of those!  It is Sunday afternoon, 5th January, as I write this and I have just taken my first two photos for the year using my DSLR.  There are no photos to be taken while sitting inside keeping warm and working on the computer.

This post is meant to pick up from Xmas till now so here goes…

We spent Xmas day at Sue’s place after cancelling plans to go somewhere like Gap.  We bought lots of really nice prepared treats from Picard and had a nice relaxing time.  We started our Xmas lunch at 2:30pm and finished at 6pm.  Sue got back home about 8pm just when the drizzle we had been having all day ramped up to an icy downpour.

We had a few nice days between Xmas and New Year but we didn’t get up to anything special other than move up to the villa at Carcès on the 27th.  Jeremy and Jo invited us to join them with their family & friends to see in the New Year.  It was a lovely evening culminating in the ritual butchering of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ around the bonfire at midnight complete with fireworks.  We left the revellers to it at 2am and went back to Sue’s place (she was kindly putting us up for the night to spare us the trek back to Carcès in the wee small hours).

Today we have been to Correns for a very pleasant lunch with friends there.  I was hoping to getting out in their area to take some photos and although it was nice and sunny the wind was cold and brutal.  No photos again!

That really covers the last couple of weeks.  I have scrounged together a couple of photos just for completeness so I’ll sign off with those.

This ice-cream log was just one of our treats on Xmas day.

This ice-cream log was just one of our treats on Xmas day.

The lake at Carcès was looking very good on the 29th but it is not all that it seemed. There was an icy wind so coats, hats and scarves were required.

The lake at Carcès was looking very good on the 29th but it is not all that it seemed. There was an icy wind so coats, hats and scarves were required.

In spite of the wind it was a popular day to take a family stroll after lunch.

In spite of the wind it was a popular day to take a family stroll after lunch.

A Citroën DSuper5 parked near the villa at Carcès.  I really meant it when I said I was short of photos!

A Citroën DSuper5 parked near the villa at Carcès. I really meant it when I said I was short of photos!

A Restful Time Back In The Var

2 Dec

After a very full on time last week we have had a very quiet time back at Le Thoronet.  It has been nice to be back ‘home’.

It was a frosty start in Girona, we had to scrape the car windows before heading in to the city to find some breakfast.  Most of the day was spent getting to Sète in France.  The skies were clear but there was the strongest wind I think I have been in.  Driving along the A9 it was a real struggle to hold the lane, the bonnet was flexing all over the place and I wondered if panels would be ripped from the car!  The speed limit is 130kph but even 110kph was really pushing it.  We stopped at a second service area near Fitou that overlooked a large harbour.  The offshore wind was so violent that the bay looked like there was a sandstorm in progress as the water was being whipped up into the air.  We dared not get out out the car for fear that the doors might be torn off as soon as they cleared the latches.  Needless to say the drive was rather tedious and tiring.  Fortunately the road was bone dry.

Heading north on the A9 towards Perpignan just after leaving Spain we managed to stop at a service area that had a good view of the mountains.  If I am not mistaken, Andorra is directly beyond these peaks.  You might just make out the misty appearance of wind blown snow at the summit.  There is no other indication in the foreground of the wind strength - it was not easy to walk around and it was bitterly cold.

Heading north on the A9 towards Perpignan just after leaving Spain we managed to stop at a service area that had a good view of the mountains. If I am not mistaken, Andorra is directly beyond these peaks. You might just make out the misty appearance of wind blown snow at the summit. There is no other indication in the foreground of the wind strength – it was not easy to walk around and it was bitterly cold.

It was too cold and windy to enjoy Sète.  It is probably a delightful place in the summer but right now all we wanted was to have lunch and keep warm.

It was too cold and windy to enjoy Sète. It is probably a delightful place in the summer but right now all we wanted was to have lunch and keep warm.

On Tuesday we drove through a small corner of the Camargue and visited Aigues-Mortes.  We wound our way through the minor roads not in a particular hurry but because it was still so cold and windy we didn’t venture out of the car.

On the way to Aigues-Mortes we spotted these flamingoes on a large shallow estuary.  Even with a 300mm zoom lens they were still too far away for detail, but it gives the idea.

On the way to Aigues-Mortes we spotted these flamingoes on a large shallow estuary. Even with a 300mm zoom lens they were still too far away for detail, but it gives the idea.

Aigues-Mortes is a spectacular walled town on the western edge of the Petite Camargue.  The Camargue area is an expansive wetland at the mouth of the Rhône and as well as being a fertile asparagus and viticultural area, bulls and Camargue horses are reared in the semi-wild and salt is produced here.  [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camargue].  The walls of the city are 1650m long and were completed around 1300AD.  [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aigues-Mortes].

Aigues-Mortes is a spectacular walled town on the western edge of the Petite Camargue. The Camargue area is an expansive wetland at the mouth of the Rhône and as well as being a fertile asparagus and viticultural area, bulls and Camargue horses are reared in the semi-wild and salt is produced here. [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camargue%5D. The walls of the city are 1650m long and were completed around 1300AD. [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aigues-Mortes%5D.

On the inside of the walls at Aigues-Mortes looking out.

On the inside of the walls at Aigues-Mortes looking out.

This view shows about 300m of one side of the Aigues-Mortes walls.  There are many gates to the town and they line up with the streets that already existed when the walls were built.  Hence the walls are not symmetrical.

This view shows about 300m of one side of the Aigues-Mortes walls. There are many gates to the town and they line up with the streets that already existed when the walls were built. Hence the walls are not symmetrical.

We arrived back at Sue’s place in Le Thoronet by 16h00 and tried to keep a low profile as she was busy preparing to go into hospital on Thursday morning for a double hip transplant on Friday.  We caught up with Jeremy and Jo on Wednesday and generally took things quietly.  The weather down here has been surprisingly crisp!  We had -5˚C and -4˚C on Wednesday and Thursday mornings respectively.  Dry but cold to start with clear sunny days that get up to 12~15˚C.  You certainly need the fire going.

Sue's cat Jazz snoozing in the warmest spot in the house.

Sue’s cat Jazz snoozing in the warmest spot in the house.

Being Black Friday in the US and therefore all over the internet, I did manage to score a couple of new photography eBooks very cheaply.  Its always interesting to find out how things are meant to be done!  So I have been doing some reading and some trial and error with the camera.  I was also trying to see if there were any ‘creative’ bones in me rather than just the pedantic technician who is usually to the fore.  These are not especially original shots, but do they work?  You be the judge.

#1 Experimenting with DoF, focus technique and composition followed by a new technique in post-processing.

#1 Experimenting with DoF, focus technique and composition followed by a new technique in post-processing.

#2 Same beehive from another angle but similar techniques.

#2 Same beehive from another angle but similar techniques.

#3 More autumn fun!  Let me know what you think in the comments.

3# More autumn fun! Let me know what you think in the comments.

And that really is about all there is to report without descending into the really mundane like getting the car serviced and grocery shopping!  😉

Now that we are back in the Var we will be staying put most of the time.  That means there will not be much to post so I will try and get a post out every two weeks from now on.  So the next post should be on the 15th December.

Cold Weather And A Very Long Lunch

18 Nov

We set a record this week!  On Monday we went to lunch at John and April’s place.  It is only 200m from here so we walked across for 12h30.  We had a lovely roast lunch with Pineau/Bordeaux/Cognac and good conversation.  Next thing it was 17h30 so Leanne went back to our place and brought over the pot of French onion soup we had on the cooker.  We heated that on the wood burner, John made toast over the embers and dinner began.  We finally got back home, in the dark, at 19h30.  A seven hour lunch!  Epic.

The Pineau and Cognac we enjoyed so much on Monday were from J. Balluet in Neuvecq-le-Château, about 90 minutes drive away.  We were well equipped with colourful stories about Mr Balluet and the only way to get our own supplies was to pay a visit.  So that was Wednesday.  Mr Balluet was absolutely charming and took us on a personal tour of the distillery.  The business was started in 1845 by his great-great-great-grandfather.  He regaled us with stories and detailed information about the business and the process but I don’t have time to go into it all because today (Monday, 18th November) we are meant to be packing and cleaning to be ready to leave tomorrow morning.

This is the still that was installed by J. Balluet in 1968 to replace the original one from 1845.  It will start the new season's work soon and will stop either when the job is finished or it is 31st March 2014, whichever is sooner.  Cognac distillation must be completed by this date by order of the Appellation.  http://www.cognac.fr/cognac/_en/2_cognac/index.aspx?page=distillation

This is the still that was installed by J. Balluet in 1968 to replace the original one from 1845. It will start the new season’s work soon and will stop either when the job is finished or it is 31st March 2014, whichever is sooner. Cognac distillation must be completed by this date by order of the Appellation. http://www.cognac.fr/cognac/_en/2_cognac/index.aspx?page=distillation

This is Mr Jean Balluet himself beside the condenser section of the still while taking us on a tour.  He is opening a barrel...

This is Mr Jean Balluet himself beside the condenser section of the still while taking us on a tour. He is opening a barrel…

... for us to smell the cognac.  It was sweet and fruity and beautiful.  The glass panelled doors behind are closing off a small room with a single bed - once the distillation starts the distiller stays here full time.  The process is totally manual and needs frequent intervention based on years of experience.

… for us to smell the cognac. It was sweet and fruity and beautiful. The glass panelled doors behind are closing off a small room with a single bed – once the distillation starts the distiller stays here full time. The process is totally manual and needs frequent intervention based on years of experience.

As well as the oak barrels, cognac is matured in these oak vats.  Apparently the result is the same only slower.

As well as the oak barrels, cognac is matured in these oak vats. Apparently the result is the same only slower.

Naturally there was a tasting involved!

Naturally there was a tasting involved!

Barrels in a warehouse just starting to be covered by the fungus “torula compniacensis”.

Barrels in a warehouse just starting to be covered by the fungus “torula compniacensis”.

Barrels gaining character as they do their work.

Barrels gaining character as they do their work.

There is a now disused tower at the distillery that has had a viewing room made at the top complete with a map table.  This is the view over most of the distillery buildings.  Balluet also grows all his own grapes and owns many acres of surrounding land.

There is a now disused tower at the distillery that has had a viewing room made at the top complete with a map table. This is the view over most of the distillery buildings. Balluet also grows all his own grapes and owns many acres of surrounding land.

Another view from the tower this time over the village of Neuvecq-le-Château.

Another view from the tower this time over the village of Neuvecq-le-Château.

Mr Balluet told us that he has several warehouses full of cognac in barrels all around the village.  He also told us that you can always tell where the cognac is being stored because the normally orange clay roof tiles turn black with the “torula compniacensis” fungus.  It looks like it doesn't only affect the rooves.

Mr Balluet told us that he has several warehouses full of cognac in barrels all around the village. He also told us that you can always tell where the cognac is being stored because the normally orange clay roof tiles turn black with the “torula compniacensis” fungus. It looks like it doesn’t only affect the rooves.

We stopped for a coffee near Neuvecq-le-Château in the village of Matha.  When we came out the weather was in the process of changing and this cloud bank was moving in from the west.

We stopped for a coffee near Neuvecq-le-Château in the village of Matha. When we came out the weather was in the process of changing and this cloud bank was moving in from the west.

But the clouds did create some nice effects.

But the clouds did create some nice effects.

The weather has definitely turned a corner here this week.  Frost, fog, clear blue skies and icy winds.  Time to head south alright!  We did manage to finally get back to Niort for another quick visit on Saturday and Autumn is unmistakeable now.

Place de la Brèche in Niort is a new park on top of the new underground parking facility and beside the bus terminal.  Directly ahead is the beginning of the pedestrian precinct.

Place de la Brèche in Niort is a new park on top of the new underground parking facility and beside the bus terminal. Directly ahead is the beginning of the pedestrian precinct.

These door handles on a fashion store in Niort were cool.

These door handles on a fashion store in Niort were cool.

Niort was once the capital of France and a major port.  The river, la Sèvre, I understand is now more used for recreation.

Niort was once the capital of France and a major port. The river, la Sèvre, I understand is now more used for recreation.

The very Autumn feel on the walkway along the river.

The very Autumn feel on the walkway along the river.

After ‘not getting around to it’ for seven weeks we also went for a walk down the chemin (lane) that passes the house here.  We just did an hour’s walk down the lane and around the block.

This is what becomes of the lane that runs past the house we have been in for the last seven weeks.  It is still marked as a public road on the map!

This is what becomes of the lane that runs past the house we have been in for the last seven weeks. It is still marked as a public road on the map!

A little further along our Sunday walk I couldn't go past this poor old barn.

A little further along our Sunday walk I couldn’t go past this poor old barn.

Another local "road" but this one is used by the farmers with their tractors and it is passable by car (provided you don't mind a little mud on the wheels!).

Another local “road” but this one is used by the farmers with their tractors and it is passable by car (provided you don’t mind a little mud on the wheels!).

If one roller is good surely five will be better!

If one roller is good surely five will be better!

So that wraps up our time in the Charentes.  This coming week we will be on the road so next week’s epistle will more than likely be quite late.  We plan to arrive back at Sue’s place in Le Thoronet  on the 26th November.  The route is down the west side of France and into Spain, across to Pamplona then Andorra then eastwards to Le Thoronet.  Should be fun!

Enjoying The Warmth

30 Sep

We have had a fairly busy week enjoying the warm weather while it lasts and spending lots of time catching up with people.  We managed to tick off two places that have been on our list since we first arrived – Cassis and Juan les Pins.  The boat trip around the coastal ‘callanques’ at Cassis was excellent.  And it always helps when the weather is extra nice on the day of course.

The weather was perfect on our visit to Cassis and the water was also flat for our boat trip to see five of the key sights over an hour.

The weather was perfect on our visit to Cassis and the water was also flat for our boat trip to see five of the key sights over an hour.

There were just so many beautiful scenes to photograph - I ended up with 280 photos just from the boat trip.

There were just so many beautiful scenes to photograph – I ended up with 280 photos just from the boat trip.

I would have liked to get more of the reflection in the water but the boat was too close to the cliffs for that!

I would have liked to get more of the reflection in the water but the boat was too close to the cliffs for that!

Back in the port at Cassis and there was still no rest for my shutter finger!  Everywhere I looked there were photos to be taken.

Back in the port at Cassis and there was still no rest for my shutter finger! Everywhere I looked there were photos to be taken.

I grabbed this shot through the locked front gate.  I think it was part of a winery, can't be sure though.

I grabbed this shot through the locked front gate. I think it was part of a winery, can’t be sure though.

By the time we got finished with our walk with Jeremy and Robin on Tuesday it was about 28˚C and we had covered 13km.  By the time we got home and had a quick shower we were 15 minutes late getting to Sabine & Jean-Marc’s place for ‘tea’ at 14h00.  We needn’t have worried because Jeremy & Jo and Robin all arrived after we did.  Only Lew & Jean were on time!  We were treated to tiramisu and chocolate cake.  And so much for tea, out came the pink sparkling wine!  In a flash it was already 18h30!

One especially interesting thing for me was to observe the greeting and departing procedure and especially with the children.  First Sabine & Jean-Marc’s two sons arrived home from school.  They are about eight and twelve I think.  Anyway, they went around the table to greet every person with a light kiss on the cheek.  Then a friend and neighbour of the boys arrived.  She was also twelve or so and she also greeted each of us.  Bear in mind that these children had never ever met Leanne & I before.  Then when the young girl left an hour later she repeated the entire process, no shyness, just very composed.  It was such a nice thing to see and experience.  Of course it is standard procedure with adults but I was surprised at how young the children adopt the protocol and how graciously they perform it.  It possibly also explains why French gatherings last so long – nobody wants to leave first/early because there are so many other people to kiss and shake hands with!

Tuesday's walk with Jeremy and Robin was near Le Muy in an area called 'Les Menhirs Des Terriers'.  Near the top there were a small collection of menhirs thought to be 5~6,000 years old.  They were only discovered in 1991 even though they are located just 5m off the well used track.

Tuesday’s walk with Jeremy and Robin was near Le Muy in an area called ‘Les Menhirs Des Terriers’. Near the top there were a small collection of menhirs thought to be 5~6,000 years old. They were only discovered in 1991 even though they are located just 5m off the well used track.

Here are the menhirs.  The grass had only just been trimmed so the site was very obvious.  I can only imagine that it must have been very heavily shrouded with bushes for it to be concealed until 1991.  It is lucky that the bulldozer that formed the fire track that runs past here didn't demolish them by accident.

Here are the menhirs. The grass had only just been trimmed so the site was very obvious. I can only imagine that it must have been very heavily shrouded with bushes for it to be concealed until 1991. It is lucky that the bulldozer that formed the fire track that runs past here didn’t demolish them by accident.

Not a lot of flowers on the walk but there were a few patches of this small heather.

Not a lot of flowers on the walk but there were a few patches of this small heather.

Yum, chocolate cake.  It has no calories because the pieces of chocolate on the top are all broken!

Yum, chocolate cake. It has no calories because the pieces of chocolate on the top are all broken!

Sabine's lovely tiramisu.  It did not survive the afternoon, with a little help from the boys when they got home from school we finished it all.

Sabine’s lovely tiramisu. It did not survive the afternoon, with a little help from the boys when they got home from school we finished it all.

On Thursday we headed back to Antibes for lunch at Le Vauban.  I probably raved about it last time so I’ll spare you that again.  If you want to know more about lunch, click here.  You were warned!  On the way we visited Juan les Pins…

Juan Les Pins had been on our list for a visit since we first arrived in Provence.  Apparently it was the place to be seen in the sixties. We got free parking on the street right near the promenade. That was the highlight of the place really. It is mainly private beaches and tired looking. BTW, this photo is very flattering!

Juan Les Pins had been on our list for a visit since we first arrived in Provence. Apparently it was the place to be seen in the sixties. We got free parking on the street right near the promenade. That was the highlight of the place really. It is mainly private beaches and tired looking. BTW, this photo is very flattering!

Still in Juan Les Pins, this was the only other photo I took.

Still in Juan Les Pins, this was the only other photo I took.

The RN7 (part of the national highway network) passes through Le Cannet and Le Luc.  We use this section frequently and while I had noticed the derelict garage I had never stopped.  Then we learned last week that this garage was one of the original ones dating back to the formation of the RN7.  It is referenced in the history of the route so it seemed duly respectful to stop and record it myself.

The RN7 (part of the national highway network) passes through Le Cannet and Le Luc. We use this section frequently and while I had noticed the derelict garage I had never stopped. Then we learned last week that this garage was one of the original ones dating back to the formation of the RN7. It is referenced in the history of the route so it seemed duly respectful to stop and record it myself.

I guess this is a WWII relic.  It doesn't look like it has moved for a while.

I guess this is a WWII relic. It doesn’t look like it has moved for a while.

The tall ships festival in Toulon started on Friday and since I was leaving for the Charente on Saturday we had to go on the first day.  It was probably just as well, there were plenty of people there and I imagine the weekend would have been manic.  The weather was hot and a bit humid and although generally fine there were clouds obscuring the mountain tops immediately behind Toulon.  Anyway, we had a very nice time.

Some of the tall ships gathered at Toulon for the 4 day festival.  The 'Alexander von Humboldt II' on the left and 'Belem' on the right.

Some of the tall ships gathered at Toulon for the 4 day festival. The ‘Alexander von Humboldt II’ on the left and ‘Belem’ on the right.

The harbour was getting rather busy at times with various classic boats plus spectator craft.

The harbour was getting rather busy at times with various classic boats plus spectator craft.

The name on this one was in Russian and I have no idea what it was now.

The name on this one was in Russian and I have no idea what it was now.

As well as tall ships there were more people totting DSLRs that I have ever seen in one place.

As well as tall ships there were more people totting DSLRs that I have ever seen in one place.

There were three tall ships lined up along this pier.  It was pretty impressive.  Various ships had visiting times posted but the queues made it a non-starter for us.

There were three tall ships lined up along this pier. It was pretty impressive. Various ships had visiting times posted but the queues made it a non-starter for us.

Looking back up the row of three.  I don't know the name of this one either - it had 'MИP' on its side.

Looking back up the row of three. I don’t know the name of this one either – it had ‘MИP’ on its side.

This ship was at least 200m away (thank goodness for zoom lenses).  I am not doing very well on names again but in my defence there is no name visible on this one anyway.

This ship was at least 200m away (thank goodness for zoom lenses). I am not doing very well on names again but in my defence there is no name visible on this one anyway.

A proposal for the next Americas Cup.  That'll keep the budget in check!

A proposal for the next Americas Cup. That’ll keep the budget in check!

Smaller vessels were lined up right outside the port-side cafés.

Smaller vessels were lined up right outside the port-side cafés.

This church was only 50m from the waterfront and caught our attention in the late afternoon light.

This church was only 50m from the waterfront and caught our attention in the late afternoon light.

Inside the church there no service in progress but this chap was busy with some ritual act at the front.  My only observation was that clergy should probably stick to preaching and leave hairdressing to those who are properly trained.

Inside the church there no service in progress but this chap was busy with some ritual act at the front. My only observation was that clergy should probably stick to preaching and leave hairdressing to those who are properly trained.

On Saturday the weather was quite overcast and again humid – not bad conditions for driving.  We made a brief visit to the puce (flea market) in Le Cannet before coming home for a cooked breakfast.  Then I fired all our stuff into the car which seemed to fit far too easily leaving me wondering what I had forgotten.  Leanne is going to survive the next week or so with just a small backpack of clothes and stuff so she doesn’t have too much to carry when she catches the train to join up with me on Tuesday the 8th of October.  This ‘trial separation’ has come about because housesitting for Sue overlapped with our next job in the Charente (long story…).

I even had time to give the car a long overdue wash before leaving and it had a full tank of diesel yesterday afternoon.  So come 13h30 I was on the road for Toulouse where I was going to spend the night.  471km in 4h20m.  Not bad motoring. I was in my hotel room relaxing by 18h00.  The tolls are heavy though!  It cost a total of €38.80 in tolls and this was only halfway!  My tank of diesel was stretching out well, the gauge only having dropped 3 bars out of 9 plus ‘reserve’.

I set off again at 08h30 the next morning, oblivious to what day of the week it was.  I had decided to try and make it all the way to Fomperron on the one tank.  Driving at 125~130kph with aircon significantly increases the full consumption but it looked OK at the halfway mark so off I went.  I was only 120km from my destination when I noticed that the fuel gauge had dropped suddenly to just one bar left plus ‘reserve’.  This could be close. It dropped to the last or ‘reserve’ bar about 5km short of Fomperron so that was OK.  That was a 463km drive in 4h15m and another €36.10 in tolls. On arriving,  John thought I was pretty brave running so low on fuel but I reckoned I would duck into Saint-Maixent to the supermarket and fill up later in the day, it was only 15km away.  That was when I found out it was SUNDAY!  Everything is closed.  Crap, that was lucky/foolhardy.  I wouldn’t have pushed my luck like that if I had realised that it was Sunday.

I did make it into Saint-Maixent on Monday morning and the 50 litre fuel tank took 48.52 litres!  That’s 1.48 litres left, enough to do only ~30km.

So the summary for the trip was tolls €74.90, fuel €61.04, cheap hotel with breakfast €41, distance 934km, drive time 8h35m, average speed 108.8kph, fuel consumption 4.96 litres/100km (the numbers here don’t yield this figure because I had already done 30km before leaving and 15km after arriving, just in case you decide to check my calculations!) The fuel use is about 10% higher than ‘normal’ driving at 90~110kph.

Just the direct costs were nearly €180 and except for the fact that we needed to get the car up to the Charente for 7 weeks, it makes the trains look like a really good deal (assuming you get the cheaper tickets).  Of course, with two people or more travelling the cost of driving versus using the train improves.

Enough analysis!  The rest of the day was spent just getting acquainted and re-acquainted with things since we did spent a night here with Gaye & John back in July.  In the evening their English neighbours, John & April, invited us for dinner.  They put on a superb spread and we had a very nice evening together.

I will start exploring the area in the next week and there are some jobs that need doing in the garden in light of the autumn weed growth.  If I get forced indoors by the weather John & Gaye have a nice entertainment system and the biggest collection of DVDs and BluRay disks I have ever seen.  I have a copy of the meticulously prepared catalogue so I should be able to find anything that takes my fancy.

Until next time…

After The Hiatus

16 Sep

I will try to post an update next week but no promises.”  Those were famous last words!  Our visit home to Auckland was an emotional roller coaster and left us quite exhausted.  I won’t go in to a lot of detail but a simple list might serve best…

  • We had a wonderful time catching up with family;
  • We also managed to catch up with several of our friends and especially had some nice meals together;
  • Darryn’s 21st was celebrated in two episodes, one with family and the other with his social circle.  All went well and we are very proud of our second young man;
  • I went to secondary school, university and then flatting with Albert.  Five days into our visit home and before I had seen him, Albert suddenly passed away due to a brain haemorrhage.  We attended gatherings at the hospital with his friends and family leading to the removal of life support and then of course the funeral in Rotorua;
  • I met up with a few people at the funeral who I had not seen for years.  I must try to do better at staying in touch in future;
  • I spent some time trying to help his family with the task of putting Albert’s affairs in order;
  • Another friend who had been staying with Albert for several years now seemed to need help in dealing with alcoholism.  I tried to help but time ran out and he was not ready to commit to dealing with reality.  Very disappointing but nothing more I could do at this time.  You can’t force someone to enter rehab no matter how obvious the need appears.  Being an alcoholic is not against the law, it is a lifestyle (that should be ‘deathstyle’) choice;
  • Leanne’s Dad was diagnosed as needing a pacemaker to moderate an irregular heartbeat;
  • We got to visit our bach (small holiday cottage) at Red Beach just north of Auckland;
  • Tony, a relative on Leanne’s side of the family, succumbed to cancer after a seven year battle.  Same age as me, more or less.  We attended his funeral on the Monday before we flew back to France;
  • I got to spend some very special times with my Dad, just chatting and pondering the world;
  • Leanne got to spend lots of time with her Mum & Dad;
  • She also managed to fit in a few local walks with her girlfriends, something they have all missed while we have been away;
  • We sampled some almost forgotten wines from our cellar and came up with some beauties;
  • Leanne and I spent some time out walking, visiting the Auckland Grammar School art auction and having lunch with our friends Bruce & Gill on the Saturday before we left.  Bruce had been snowboarding for a couple of days the previous week.  Then on Sunday afternoon we got a call to say Bruce had just died!  Again, same age as me, more or less.  Without warning or any history he suffered a massive heart attack while out kite-surfing.  We were absolutely stunned and deeply saddened.  How could this be true?  Unfortunately we could not stay for his funeral which was the Friday after our departure but our oldest son, Steven, attended for us.

I am still in shock at how all this happened in a five week window after we have been travelling for 18 months already with no major dramas affecting us.  I am torn between concluding that our timing was excellent on one hand or absolutely abysmal on the other.  As I observed in an email to a friend, ‘I need to leave NZ again asap before I have no living friends left!

As a consequence of all this turmoil I barely took any photos and really haven’t felt up to writing anything.  My apologies to all those faithful readers who kept checking back only to find nothing new.  Anyway, this posting is now going to cover the period from 5th August to 15th September.

The tourist information centre in Matamata has been transformed into a Hobbit-like house and I think it looks pretty cool.

The tourist information centre in Matamata has been transformed into a Hobbit-like house and I think it looks pretty cool.

And just so you don't forget where you are, this sits boldly in the landscaped central reservation of the town's main street.

And just so you don’t forget where you are, this sits boldly in the landscaped central reservation of the town’s main street.

Twin Oaks Drive in Cornwall Park (Auckland, NZ) usually has an intense display of daffodils.  I think I was a little too early but I didn't get back to check again later.

Twin Oaks Drive in Cornwall Park (Auckland, NZ) usually has an intense display of daffodils. I think I was a little too early but I didn’t get back to check again later.

Darryn posing with the cake Leanne made for the family version of his 21st birthday celebrations.  The sprinkles are in the shape of dinosaurs - never too old!

Darryn posing with the cake Leanne made for the family version of his 21st birthday celebrations. The sprinkles are in the shape of dinosaurs – never too old!

Darryn with his two Grandfathers - my Dad on his left and Leanne's Dad on his right.

Darryn with his two Grandfathers – my Dad on his left and Leanne’s Dad on his right.

Darryn making a point.

Darryn making a point.

Being Spring in NZ means blossom and that meant a rowdy picnic for seven tuis near Mt Eden Village.

Being Spring in NZ means blossom and that meant a rowdy picnic for seven tuis near Mt Eden Village.

Leanne made up this photo board based on various family photos plus some from his Facebook page that were provided by other helpful people (he won't allow his parents to be his fb friend).

Leanne made up this photo board based on various family photos plus some from his Facebook page that were provided by other helpful people (he won’t allow his parents to be his fb friend).

A ritual drinking custom at Darryn's other party which was held at a bar at the University of Auckland campus, Toasted.  It was actually a fairly orderly night out because it was the weekend before a week of assignment due dates and mid-course tests for most students.

A ritual drinking custom at Darryn’s other party which was held at a bar at the University of Auckland campus, Toasted. It was actually a fairly orderly night out because it was the weekend before a week of assignment due dates and mid-course tests for most students.

We were there too of course.

We were there too of course.

The weather was windy a lot of the time in Auckland so this view from Mt Eden looks a bit hazy.  Still, Rangitoto is very obvious in the background.

The weather was windy a lot of the time in Auckland so this view from Mt Eden looks a bit hazy. Still, Rangitoto is very obvious in the background.

The view from our bach is still clear after the tree work we had done earlier this year.

The view from our bach is still clear after the tree work we had done earlier this year.

Looking along Red Beach to the SE.

Looking along Red Beach to the SE.

This time looking roughly NE.

This time looking roughly NE.

Darryn helped with mulching the prunings from the Gleditsia tree.  Interesting pose!

Darryn helped with mulching the prunings from the Gleditsia tree. Interesting pose!

The magnolia near the gate started flowering after we arrived home and was still going when we left again five weeks later.

The magnolia near the gate started flowering after we arrived home and was still going when we left again five weeks later.

Highwic House is a NZ Historic places Trust property only a couple of kilometres from home but in 16+ years we had never visited it.  After seeing so many great sites in the UK we made a point of getting there.  More modest than what we have seen elsewhere but special because much of the history and the names connected to it are familiar to us.

Highwic House is a NZ Historic places Trust property only a couple of kilometres from home but in 16+ years we had never visited it. After seeing so many great sites in the UK we made a point of getting there. More modest than what we have seen elsewhere but special because much of the history and the names connected to it are familiar to us.

Another view of Highwic House.

Another view of Highwic House.

1996 Cranswick Estate Botrytis Semillon, beautiful!

1996 Cranswick Estate Botrytis Semillon, beautiful!

Gill and I posing at AGS on Saturday 7th September after visiting the Art Auction.

Gill and I posing at AGS on Saturday 7th September after visiting the Art Auction.

What could be better?  We finally managed to import some NZ Marmite into France.  When we last visited home in February the factory in Christchurch that makes it was still out of commission following the major earthquakes in the region so we missed out.

What could be better? We finally managed to import some NZ Marmite into France. When we last visited home in February the factory in Christchurch that makes it was still out of commission following the major earthquakes in the region so we missed out.

The other perfect spread on a fresh baguette with butter is Bonne Maman fig jam.

The other perfect spread on a fresh baguette with butter is Bonne Maman fig jam.

We flew out of Auckland on Wednesday 11th September at 17h50 on the Emirates A380.  I think that aircraft is great.  Once we got away from Melbourne and on to the 14 hour leg to Dubai I managed to get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep in economy class. I can’t do that on a B747 or B777.  In fact the leg from Dubai to Nice on the B777 only served to confirm my very low opinion of that aircraft.  It really is an outdated piece of junk.

We landed in Nice on schedule at 14h15 on Thursday.  Unfortunately, by the time our bags came through we had just missed the 14h30 bus to the train station and the next one was at 15h00.  Once at the train station it was another 50 minute wait for the 16h01 train to Les Arcs which didn’t leave until 16h10.  Then it stopped at every station and upturned rock from Nice to Saint Raphael taking 90 minutes for the trip.  Jeremy was there waiting for us with his flash new wheels and we just managed to fit all our bags in the back for the ride to Sue’s place.  18h00 at Sue’s and time for a rosé.  It had been 46 hours since we last got out of our bed and 34 hours since we left Auckland.  All things considered we didn’t feel too shabby although we were both fading a bit on the tedious train trip.  Once we got a rosé into us and some conversation going we lasted another four hours before going to bed.

On Friday I dropped Sue at the airport in Nice for her flight to the UK and we basically spent the next three days taking it easy and catching up with one or two people.  We are looking after Sue’s place until 5th October while she is away.  On Sunday afternoon we met John who is housesitting at nearby place owned by a Kiwi lady for three months.  He is from Auckland and we had a bit of a Kiwi get-together at his place with Lew & Jean plus honorary Kiwis, Jeremy & Jo.

That’s all I have to say about the last six weeks.  Really looking forward to getting back into our alternative life here in France – house sitting, walks, taking lots of photos, touring, meeting people, etc.  And I am determined to get this blog back on track!  Thanks for reading.

Impressionists and the Clear Blue Skies of Provence

5 Aug

It really shouldn’t have taken me so long to publish this post since there are very few photos to caption and not so much to report on.  The week was largely spent in the processes of relocating and packing.  We started the week in Remoulins near the Pont-du-Gard, drove to Le Thoronet, took the train from Les Arcs to Nice, then flew from Nice to Dubai and on to Auckland arriving home in Auckland on Saturday afternoon.  Since then I have been struggling to get a decent night’s sleep.  The only thing that has been inducing me to sleep is sitting down at my computer and that has not been helping me get this post completed!  Anyway…

We awoke to rain still on Monday morning in Remoulins after our visit to the Pont-du-Gard on Sunday evening.  By the time we arrived at Tarascon for a short break and breakfast the sun was shining again and it was getting hot.

By the time we got to St-Rémy-de-Provence the skies were clear and it was a scorcher.  We had a bit of a walk, trying to stay in the shade, around this home of Impressionism then found a nice cool restaurant with a very good plat-du-jour.  Next thing we had another Kiwi couple, from Winchester just north of Timaru, at the next table!  They were an older couple on a six week holiday and were spending about a week here.  After lunch we had a quick look around some of the shops before setting course for Le Thoronet.

Tarascon is a small town near Beaucaire where we stopped for a break after leaving Remoulins.

Tarascon is a small town near Beaucaire where we stopped for a break after leaving Remoulins.

On the drive from St-Rémy-de-Provence to Le Thoronet we were just awestruck by how clear the air, skies and scenery looked.  Looking towards Sainte-victoire, an iconic mountain in Provence near Aix, from the A8 it looked like it was so close you could have reached out the window to touch it.  Sadly, being an ‘A’ road there was no place to stop for a photo and at the nearest service centre there were trees blocking the view – typical!  This outstanding clarity is one of the reasons that places like St-Rémy-de-Provence are so favoured by painters.  It was also one of our first impressions (excuse the pun) when we arrived in Le Thoronet in late March last year.

Our hotel in Le Thoronet was “Sue’s Place” and we arrived about 4pm.  Spent the evening chatting, sipping Rosé and dining.  It was nice to be ‘home’.

We spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday repacking, visiting and relaxing.  We did go to the Lorgues market on Tuesday morning and even got there early enough to get a park right in the centre and before all the stalls were set up.  Being summer holiday time the place was busy and the predominant language in the air was English.

On Wednesday evening Sue put on a dinner and invited Han & Rens and Virginia.  It was a very nice evening and the meal was excellent.  It was a real bonus to see Han & Rens again so soon too.  They have come down to look after Tutu while James & Lavinia are away for a month and Lew & Jean are also away for some days.

The scene at Sue's place set for dinner on Wednesday evening.

The scene at Sue’s place set for dinner on Wednesday evening.

Sue's back garden is now almost complete.  The perimeter is protected by an electric fence to keep the sanglier (wild boar) out.

Sue’s back garden is now almost complete. The perimeter is protected by an electric fence to keep the sanglier (wild boar) out.

We had an early start on Thursday so that we could leave the house at 09h20.  Sue very kindly dropped us at the train station in Les Arcs.  Everything run to schedule and there is really not much more to say until we arrived home.  Except perhaps to comment on the merits of the Boeing 777 vs the A380.  The sector from Nice to Dubai was on the 777.  In my opinion this is a dreadful aircraft – economy is overly cramped, it is noisy, the power outlets are not available in aisle seats, the overhead space seems lacking.  I just don’t like it.  On the other hand, the A380 is a magnificent machine, the opposite of the few things listed above and more.  Doing the 14-odd hour sector from Dubai to Sydney in economy doesn’t seem like a hardship at all even when you are 6’2″.  At least that is my opinion.

Steven and Darryn collected us from the airport on Saturday afternoon.  It was nice to be back home but it really didn’t seem like we had been away.  I probably made the same observation last time, but this trip was only five months.  The first thing to surprise us was just how warm it was.  Not bad for winter.  We spent the evening talking, Dad came around, the phone kept ringing…  It was also the final of the Super 15 Rugby, Chiefs vs Brumbies (so that’s why we saw all those Brumbies tee shirts on the flight?!).  What a close match.  Gladly the Chiefs prevailed 29-22 but it took a while for my blood pressure to stabilise.

Sunday was a nice warm day again.  We slept OK, not great so were feeling a bit tired.  We spent the day quietly and did some visiting.  In the evening, after sunset, Steven and I went up to the summit of Mt Eden to take some photos and managed to get a few keepers.

The view from the summit of Mt. Eden on Sunday evening at 18h40.

The view from the summit of Mt. Eden on Sunday evening at 18h40.

That’s about it for now.  I will be away this coming weekend so that means next week’s post will also be late, hopefully not as bad as this one!

Summer Heat In France

22 Jul

I think this week sets a new record for the lowest number of photos I have taken since this adventure started.  That means it will be a fairly short post.  It has just been too hot to be galavanting around too much!

The week started in the splendid company of the Hurpin family and friends at the summer holiday farmhouse they hire at Siouville-Hague which is near Cherbourg.  The weather continued to be perfect and even I was convinced to take a swim – what a mistake that turned out to be.  We got chest deep and using my watch I measured the water temperature at between 16.8˚C and 17.2˚C just 250mm below the surface!  I was loosing feeling in my feet so I put the watch on my foot and measured 16.4˚C on the bottom.  We lasted about 15 minutes before retreating to the warmth on the sand.  The speed at which the tide moves over the sand is impressive too.  The tidal range in this area is huge, 6.33m at its maximum between low and high tides.  So it covers and uncovers over 400m of sand every 7 hours or so.

We sang Happy Birthday to Leanne in French at ten minutes after midnight on the 16th before going to bed.  Wednesday was a travel day, we had about five hours on the road to get to Fomperron where we met and spent the night with Gaye and John.  We will be house sitting for them for nearly eight weeks starting at the very end of September.  They have a very nice spot in a small hamlet with lots of vegetable gardens.  It should be lots of fun and allow us flexibility to explore the region.  You will hear all about that later.

On Thursday we met Gaye and John’s English neighbours, a delightful couple, who will be our first call for any problems with things on the property.  We left Fomperron after lunch heading for Le Paradis to meet Nicky and family.  We arrived at 17h00 and it was hot.  Our assignment here is only nine days while they take a holiday at the beach.  Our charges here are 4 dogs, 3 cats, 5 goats (one due to kid this week, triplets expected), 15 chickens, several white mice, 2 snakes (hence the mice, i.e. food!), and an aquarium containing 20+ small tropical fish.  There are also three horses but Nicky’s Dad looks after them.

Nicky and family headed away for their holiday on Saturday afternoon which gave us Thursday night, all of Friday plus Saturday morning to learn the routines and have time for questions.  It was 34˚C on Saturday afternoon and we needed to stock up on groceries so we headed for LeClerc at Ruffec and spent some extra time in their chilled food aisles!  Of course our times out of the house were carefully scheduled so we didn’t miss too much of the TDF coverage on ITV4.

One of the items on the shopping list was some beer to quench the inevitable thirst that one acquires in this heat.  I scanned the beer aisle and found a two-dozen pack of 250ml bottles on special, without bothering to read the label – it was in the beer department.  It turned out to be  shandy with less than 1% alcohol and it tasted like ginger beer.  Actually turned out to be ideal in the heat.  Very lucky escape, I must remember to read the label next time.

On Sunday we went out for another drive around the area but we didn’t last very long, it was too hot.

Looking from the driveway of the house at Siouville-Hague towards the beach 1km away down the lane.

Looking from the driveway of the house at Siouville-Hague towards the beach 1km away down the lane.

A part of the garden we will be looking after in October/November this year near Fomperron.

A part of the garden we will be looking after in October/November this year near Fomperron.

We were told of some villages near our route where there were holly-hocks growing out of every crack in the pavement.  This one was Bagnault but I only got this average photo using the iPhone - it was just too hot to be bothered getting the DSLR out and spending any more than a few moments away from the air-conditioned comfort of the car.

We were told of some villages near our route where there were holly-hocks growing out of every crack in the pavement. This one was Bagnault but I only got this average photo using the iPhone – it was just too hot to be bothered getting the DSLR out and spending any more than a few moments away from the air-conditioned comfort of the car.

This is the Charente River which lends its name to the Département Charente.  The location is Verteuil and the chåteau is the 11th century Chåteau de Verteuil.

This is the Charente River which lends its name to the Département Charente. The location is Verteuil and the chåteau is the 11th century Chåteau de Verteuil.

Sunflowers near Ruffec.  Most of the fields around this area are either sunflowers, wheat or maize.  Wheat is being harvested now while this is the most mature field of sunflowers we have seen.

Sunflowers near Ruffec. Most of the fields around this area are either sunflowers, wheat or maize. Wheat is being harvested now while this is the most mature field of sunflowers we have seen.

A sunflower looking good.

A sunflower looking good.

The village of Nanteuil is signposted from several routes as a 'picturesque village'.  It certainly was and we did stop for an hour for coffee in the shade but it was far too hot to go wandering around.  Hopefully we will get back early one day this week.

The village of Nanteuil is signposted from several routes as a ‘picturesque village’. It certainly was and we did stop for an hour for coffee in the shade but it was far too hot to go wandering around. Hopefully we will get back early one day this week.

That’s it for the week.  Short and sweet.  I hope to have a few more photos for next week but as I hide from the heat inside the house finishing this on Monday afternoon it is 35˚C.  At these sorts of temperatures being out and about is hard work.  Even the pool at Nicky’s parent’s house, two doors away, is 31˚C so hardly worth the effort!

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